Ready, Aim, Fire: Targeting Your E-Biz Message

I love targeted e-mail. When I check my e-mail, I look forward to receiving messages that are timely, interesting and help me save money. Businesses I know and trust that send me the right marketing messages are often rewarded with a sale — or at least some of my attention, which always seems to be in short supply.

I love targeted e-mail about as much as I despise spam. I’m not alone. People universally hate spam — they block it, complain about it, track it, even collect it if only to display their own online chamber of horrors.

I’m referring to untargeted messages, the kind with subjects that make you recoil in disgust. Messages that you can’t unsubscribe to — if you try, you’ll be marked for additional messages. Messages that you can’t block — the sender uses a different address each time. Messages that you can’t trace, stop or even effectively complain about. Messages that you often couldn’t read if you wanted to, since they arrive in every foreign language from Chinese to Spanish.

A Gallup Poll published this summer shows that three out of 10 e-mail messages received by the average user are spam. In my inbox, it’s closer to six out of 10.

Spam damages customer goodwill. Conversely, targeted opt-in e-mail is designed to build goodwill and develop relationships. Done cleverly and correctly, it can be the most inexpensive and effective way to reach your customers, time and time again.

Ready, Aim …

How can you ensure your messages are anticipated, desired and add to your bottom line? Your mailing list is the key.

Purchase an opt-in list from a third-party vendor, or build your own from an existing customer base. Expect a fair amount of returns from a purchased list, as information may be outdated. Also, many people included in opt-in lists don’t remember — or realize — what they’ve signed up for.

If you are building your own list, ask customers before you sign them up for anything. Allow them to easily opt out of your mailings, and give them an idea of how often to expect your messages.

You can also sponsor targeted lists sent by other companies. For instance, a luxury resort might buy space on a list going out to engaged couples.

Think Outside the Box

Technology allows you to personalize your messages, perhaps by mentioning the recipient’s name in the subject line. Using a database, you can go beyond simple customization to specifically target your customer base.

For a basic example, suppose you are running a product special. Send an announcement to customers who have purchased that type of product before.

Tailor your messages according to each customer’s business size, how long they have been a customer, and what types of products they usually buy. A database application will allow you to add, subtract and alter paragraphs according to the particular recipient, all with the ease and speed of a typical form letter.

E-mailers are pushing the technology envelope, adding Flash animation and even sound. I received a message the other day featuring a cartoon man giving me a humorous audio sales pitch. It definitely caught my attention.

Track the Action

Don’t make the fatal mistake of leaving out the call to action. Chances are your message will be quickly scanned by the recipient. Make it obvious what the next step — or click — is.

Use viral marketing to your advantage. Ask customers to forward your message to friends, family and co-workers. Track referrals from existing customers, and reward them.

Also track incoming clicks, so you can see how well your campaign worked — and can adjust it next time. Test different marketing messages to judge effectiveness. Even if you are not using a sophisticated database system, this can be as easy as altering the link that users click on.

Dot the I’s

Don’t forget to check details like the return address. Make sure it clearly states your company name — e-mail users may not open e-mail from a sender they don’t recognize. Double check for typos, factual errors and formatting issues. Make sure all hyperlinks work.

Most importantly, give the customer an idea of how they may have ended up on your list, and again — because customer goodwill really depends on this option — let them know how they can opt out.

Keeping each of your e-mail marketing messages relevant, anticipated and professional will leave a good taste in the mouths of your customers. An effective e-mail campaign will build traffic to your site, add to your bottom line and increase goodwill among your customers.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it.

Note: The opinions expressed by our columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the E-Commerce Times or its management.


  • I have no major problems with the article. Overall, if marketers followed the advice contained therein, most experienced email users would have few complaints. Just a couple of things …

    “I love targeted email”. Well, not everybody shares your enthusiasm. I have never received any unsolicited “targeted” email that would ever entice me to buy anything. Please keep that in mind.

    “Purchase opt-in lists”. Pardon me, but there’s a problem of definition here. Depends on what the consumer “opted in” for.

    On the one hand, I might tell a web site owner, “Sure, go ahead and tell your friends that they can send me information, about anything that they think I’d be interested in.”

    On the other hand, I might “opt-in” to receive a newsletter, and maybe the list owner didn’t tell me that they were going to give the list to anybody else.

    If you buy and use an “opt-in” list to send me email in the former instance, then there’s no problem.

    If you buy an “opt-in” list in the latter instance, then your email to me is spam, and you and the list owner are scum.

    Please clarify what you mean by “opt-in”.

  • I agree with Jeff that Ms. Chisholm’s article is simplistic. There is much more to getting a good response than checking for typos. Good response comes from a good offer and quality customer data. Even in this pseudo-recession period, consistent e-mail marketing containing solid offers, complete customer data and enticing creative outsells any other marketing vehicle on the block. TV, radio, print, paper mail and banner ads can’t touch it.

  • This article is simplistic, antiquated and childish. Email marketing conversion is plummeting and you are singing their praises. What a waste of atoms this article is…it is sooo 2000…

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